Childhood Obesity and Activity

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You’re not gonna believe this, but we are still marveling over the vast number of intelligent, coherent, and useful responses that came in regarding last Friday’s post, “When There Is Nothing to Do but Eat.” For instance, somebody known as JumpGym Vancouver suggested a series of articles from a program called “Canadian Sports for Life” (CS4L), in which Dr. Colin Higgs talks about Active Start, the activity plan for children from birth to age six. At this stage, it’s all about introducing kids to relatively unstructured play that encourages a wide variety of body movements. Dr. Higgs says,

An early active start enhances development of brain function, coordination, social skills, gross motor skills, emotions, leadership, and imagination. It also helps children build confidence, develop posture and balance, build strong bones and muscles, promote healthy weight, reduce stress, improve sleep, learn to move skillfully, and learn to enjoy being active.

We notice that, out of 15 listed benefits, only one of them is “promote healthy weight.” This is relevant because of new research (“The Early Bird Study“) that seems to indicate that getting lots of exercise doesn’t help fat kids lose weight. And maybe it doesn’t, but exercise does 14 other things, and, if you catch the kids young enough and get them moving around, exercise may even prevent childhood obesity. How? Because a child who’s busy developing good brain function, coordination, social skills, gross motor skills, leadership, imagination, confidence, good posture and balance, a strong frame, a resistance to stress, and all those other positive attributes will consequently be a happy and well-coping kid.

With all that going for her or him, there is a much smaller chance that the child will overeat for the traditional reasons of needing comfort or relief from stress. This is what many Childhood Obesity News readers report about their own experiences. They fondly remember their own childhood days of ceaseless outdoor activity. Nowadays, even if parents have the time to accompany the kids and hang out with them, there just don’t seem to be enough appropriate places for their children to indulge in the same kind of play. Even today though, some families are lucky enough to live in areas where the idea of “free-range kids” is not totally outlandish. Here are a few typical comments, followed by names or usernames.

  • As a pediatric dietitian treating children and their families I see this all the time. Kids can’t go out until parents get home and the boredom eating is a huge problem. — nurturingnutritionist
  • I read somewhere that a child gets more intellectual and creative stimulation from playing in dirt than from computers. I have no idea if it’s true, but it sounds good. — lifeintheboomerlane
  • My Internet went out … so my son had no cable T.V. or Internet for two days. When I got home from work yesterday, there were two small piles of leaves on the front lawn. I asked him who put those leaves there. He told me he got ‘bored’ and decided to go outside and rake the yard! — rtcrita
  • Being obese since childhood, even though there was a safe neighborhood atmosphere, I ‘detached.’ The children were cruel and bullied me, even with physical assault, causing me to stay inside, and eat. Which made the cycle spin. — julieUnscripted
  • Children who are not allowed to go outside and don’t exhaust their energy by being active most of the day, start having attention problems, some of them are being labeled and are being drugged by parents, teachers and psychiatrists just because parents and teachers cannot deal with an over active child that doesn’t get enough exercise. — blogergal
  • This is precisely why I loved being a camp director. No child left indoors. — teapotchronicles
  • I choose to live in a more economically distressed neighborhood where parents cannot afford daycare and after school care, and instead, get to know the neighbors so that we all know who we can trust. It’s worked out really well and made a very nice neighborhood. — Bill
  • Maybe neighborhood moms could band together and take turns being nearby while kids play together. — Christy aka Mamarazzi
  • How about creating a sort of neighborhood watch for the kids? Select a parent each day to supervise the kids outside… Hopefully most parents can set aside at least one day a week to make sure their kids are safe while they play outside. Everyone benefits, especially the kids. — berettaluvz26
  • This country swings in extremes and always has. ‘Twas a time when children (more so the poor) were undernourished, overworked and treated like scum. Nowadays, they are kept like calves in pens and thrown the cabinet and the fridge. — gebarr

Yes, everybody has a lot of obligations and appointments, parents and kids alike. As Dr. Umar Dar remarks,

We have now become more of a two income home society… in which there is little time for a home care giver (we use to call her mom) to provide families with healthy meals that included an adequate serving of fresh fruits and vegetables. Now because of our fast paced lifestyle, many parents are left to look for ‘quick meals’ and much of our daily food intake is often ‘on the go.’

This is an area where we (parents) need to take a good, hard look at ourselves. Sometimes, our lives don’t really need to be so busy. If we step back and really think about it, we might find that a lot of our activity is not really necessity-driven. Sometimes we create a lot of pointless, futile busy-ness that doesn’t really need to exist. And kids can take some responsibility too. As reader “Athais” notes,

Children, especially teens, can quit asking to be driven to school, can ask for healthier meals and choose healthier meals, can exercise. No one is stopping them. They choose not to, especially the teens. Poor habits can be broken if one chooses to do so. But coddling parents don’t help.

Addressing the question of possible abduction and other nightmare scenarios that plague the minds of parents, and the relative likelihood of something like that actually taking place, reader “faithmcgown” says,

So much of the problem is fear. Parents’ fear of something terrible happening to our children, when in fact, that something is happening right under our noses.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Active Start,” Canadian Sports for Life
Image by lululemon athletica, used under its Creative Commons license.

3 Responses

  1. I look around where I live and what I see is a multitude of children from different countries. I live in a very diverse area.

    What I notice is that those families that can’t afford cable/internet have children who are outside in the playground more often than those that can afford those things. In truth, I have to say that the playground rarely sees an American child. The other day, there were Hispanic, Indian, Asian, Russian, and other children. Not a one was what I would call ‘American’.

    This says something about American culture. The culture here is one that centers around technology. I sit in a restaurant to eat and enjoy what I am eating. Around me are people, sometimes couples, with their phones plastered to their ears ingesting food that they don’t taste or even notice. Chances are, they probably don’t notice when they are full either.

    I used to weight 294 pounds. Most of that weight gain was from undiagnosed gestational diabetes. I would suffer from hunger due to the excessive output of insulin. I would eat something, usually a carbohydrate, which would compound the problem. Now, I am worried about diabetes, since I am at a higher risk due to the gestational diabetes.

    When I weighed 294, my provider mentioned bariatric surgery. I read about it and decided not to do it for several reasons. First, many people who loose weight via surgery gain it back because they have not learned proper eating habits. Second, there are many different complications from the surgery. Third, you still need to follow a diet in order to be successful after the surgery.

    If I was going to have to follow a diet after the surgery, I figured I should just diet, period. I currently weight 190. That is 100 pounds lost via dieting. A vegetarian diet took off 75 pounds and South Beach is taking off the rest. Exercise has really helped me loose the weight. Exercise is essential.

    What exercise do children get these days. Physical education has been removed from the schools. Teenagers take jobs that occupy their time in the evenings, when in the past teenagers would bike, dance, swim, etc. in their free time. All children are sitting in front of the television, computer, or other technology that stimulates the mind, but not the body. Occasionally, a parent will drive the child to soccer, baseball, etc. only to bring them home again, where they sit at the television, computer, etc. Parents even drive their children to school, covering 8 blocks in one minute, when the child could have walked it. If you are worried about your child getting kidnapped walking to school, why not walk to school with them and get some exercise doing so?

    A long time ago, when I was a single parent, our television died. I didn’t replace it, going for years without a television. My children began to loose weight, from playing in the playground, riding their bikes, etc. Since I didn’t have much money, my children didn’t get to eat out often. Nor did they have twinkies, ho hos, and all that other junk. There was the occasional candy bar, but even that wasn’t very often.

    I have to agree that children who sit around watching television or playing on the computer are often the ones labeled as hyperactive. I used to coach soccer and was burdened with five hyperactive children on my team. I queried the parents about what they were like at home. All the parents said that they were sedate, watching television, etc. They said that the medication, Ritalin, must have been wearing out by the time practices came along in the evening. Trouble is, those children weren’t much better when I held practices in the mornings on the weekends.

    We have become a society in which pills can be given in order to fix everything. There’s a pill for children who aren’t getting enough exercise to burn off their excess energy. There’s a pill for people who have high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or high cholesterol. There are pills for those who want to loose weight. Unfortunately, weight reduction pills still require the person to follow a diet.

    What people want is the easy way out. They want a pill that will miraculously help them loose the weight, but still allow them to indulge in all the unhealthy food that they want. People don’t want to take responsibility for their weight. They make excuse after excuse, when the responsibility lies with them. As my father used to say, “Put down the utensil and push yourself away from the table”.

    It doesn’t help when a candy bar costs less than an apple. It doesn’t help when the government folds to the agricultural and food industries, allowing them to foist their unhealthy selections on the people. Yes, I believe in having choices, but choices should be informed choices. When the agricultural and food industries are being given the right not to label foods as GMO or are allowed to use evasive and unclear language, leaving the consumer naive about what is in their food, the consumer cannot make an informed choice.

    Much of what is on food shelves these days are chemicals disguised as food. Food companies take corn, wheat, and soy and can make just about any food. Unfortunately, these three things elevate the sugar levels in the blood rapidly (high glycemic index), leaving the person hungry all over again because of insulin spikes. So they eat more and more and more.

    Education is the name of the game, but the food industry hides what we, the consumer, need to know. Even though it is the person’s responsibility to take control of their weight issue, they must be given the tools to do so. The government needs to become proactive and force the food industry to provide truthful and clear accounting for what is in the food on store shelves.

    As a nurse, I have been educated on nutrition and have read many, many books on food labeling. It still is confusing to me. I am sure it is even more confusing to common, non-medically trained consumers. It is time for consumers to rise up and complain so that we get the assistance we need to make informed choices about what we put into our bodies.

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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